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In Conversation with Laura Collins

"I hope that audiences will debate the complexities of eco-feminism, female rage and chronic pain." Playwright and She Writes alumna Laura Collins speaks with us about her latest play 'The Cave of Spleen', premiering at Explosives Factory 2-12 August.

Q: Where did the inspiration behind The Cave of Speen come from?

A: My plan was to write an angry play about the climate crisis. The angriest play I could muster; one that celebrated female rage and was gloriously and unapologetically unhinged in its fury. This goal fell apart when my weekly migraines became daily. The stress of the pandemic. The playful battle cry I had envisioned quickly spiralled into pain and chaos. I could only put pen to paper in short bursts. I repeated ideas and wrote in circles. My cherished characters blurred together. Scenes became increasingly condensed. ‘Profound’ dialogue written one day would be revealed to be gibberish the next. The process was so frustrating that I stopped writing altogether.

Everything changed when I participated in the She Writes Program. In one of the masterclasses, we were given the advice to embrace whatever produces writer’s block and use it as our fuel and material. I was inspired to make chronic pain a central pillar of the work, and I used the restrictions my pain was putting on me as a dramaturgical tool to shape the structure of the play.

The cave itself materialised when I was researching the suffering body and where it has appeared in literature. I discovered The Cave of Spleen; a fictional hellscape referenced in Alexander Pope’s 1712 epic narrative poem ‘The Rape of the Lock’. I was intrigued by his idea of a dystopian underworld filled with women afflicted with chronic pain conditions. My goal was to transpose his nightmare-inducing exploration of female pain into a contemporary setting, underscored by the horror of the climate crisis.

Q: How did the She Writes program support the development of this new play?

A: The She Writes program in 2020 and 2021 was an incredibly rewarding experience. It provided me with the opportunity to connect with inspiring playwrights, directors, and dramaturgs, in a time where making such connections was difficult, and learn from their processes and perspectives. I absorbed so much from the Q&A sessions and masterclasses held over video conference and was fortunate enough to meet many female and non-binary theatre-makers who have, encouragingly, found success within in the industry. The program also gave me a safe and supportive ‘space’ in which to write. I found the deadlines helpful and the opportunities for feedback incredibly motivating. The program provided me with structure and clarity, which was greatly needed, especially considering how confusing that time was.

Q: What have you most enjoyed about the development and rehearsal period so far?

A: My highlight has been working with, and learning from, a huge and incredible group of female and non-binary creatives. I am so in awe of their beautiful brains. Writing can be a lonely process, but I never felt isolated working on this project. In fact, I have felt so held and inspired every step of the way. Generating text in the She Writes Program with Briony Dunn, dramaturg Noemie Hutter-Koros and the other writers kickstarted the whole project, and they were all extremely generous with their time and contributions. The development with Briony Dunn, Bronwen Coleman, Ruby Duncan, Ellen Marning and Elisa Armstrong generated masses of ideas and revealed the potential of what ‘The Cave of Spleen’ could be. And finally, the rehearsal period led by Stéphanie Ghajar has been a constant joy. Stéphanie is a powerful creative force and an incredibly kind human, our actors Pia O’Meadhra, Heather Riley, Amelia Jane and Nisha Joseph are beyond talented and have made the text deeper and richer than I could ever dream, Piper Knight is a doggedly hardworking stage manager and a guiding light in the rehearsal room, and Emily Star, our star of a producer, is the glue that holds everything together. Fiona Macdonald our set and costume designer, Giovanna Yate Gonzalez our lighting designer, Rachel Lewindon and Imogen Cygler our sound designers, and Alanah Guiry our dramaturg, constantly inspire me with their wild talent and profound creativity. So yes, for sure what I have enjoyed most is spending time with this killer group of creatives.

Q: Has the writing process illuminated a new perspective or understanding behind some of the play's key themes, such as climate disaster and the management of chronic pain?

A: Creating the work was an opportunity for me to consider my own chronic pain and draw links from my pain to my relationship with anger as a woman. Although I could not connect to my rage while writing the work it still makes up its lifeblood, simmering beneath the surface. What emerged was an exploration of what happens when rage isn’t allowed to escape the body, and the theory that the expectation for women and non-binary people to suppress their rage can result in various chronic pain conditions. The writing process also illuminated the parallels between the chronic pain experienced by women and the environmental destruction experienced by the earth, which provided an understanding of the climate crisis through the lens of chronic pain and eco-feminism. I started to see the earth as a body that is hurting, and the body as an ecosystem in crisis.

Q: What conversations do you hope The Cave of Spleen will ignite amongst audiences?

A: I hope that audiences will debate the complexities of eco-feminism, female rage and chronic pain. I hope they will ask: is the societal expectation for women to suppress their anger the reason our bodies are crumbling into the ocean? And can the same be said for the earth? I hope the climate crisis will be considered through a feminist lens and one of bodily suffering. I hope there will be conversations about ethics in activism, the role of women within activist movements, and the disproportionate number of women and non-binary people suffering from chronic pain. And I hope audiences will consider screaming now; before their mouths are filled with seawater.

THE CAVE OF SPLEEN by Laura Collins 2-12 August | Explosives Factory BOOK TICKETS


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